The Column

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Looking for a job? Get a job first -- or something

It's common knowledge that the job-seeker who is already employed has an edge anyway (even if it's the psychological advantage of dealing from a position of power.) However, it's looking like having a job is almost a prerequisite for getting a job. From the Wall Street Journal:

With unemployment at 9.4% and rising, it’s a buyer’s market for employers that are hiring. But many employers are bypassing the jobless to target those still working, reasoning that these survivors are the top performers.

“If they’re employed in today’s economy, they have to be first string,” says Ryan Ross, a partner with Kaye/Bassman International Corp., an executive recruiting firm in Dallas. Mr. Ross says more clients recently have indicated that they would prefer to fill positions with “passive candidates” who are working elsewhere and not actively seeking a job.

Court affirms Franken as senator

(Photo from the Star Tribune)

Nearly eight months after the election, it's finally official. But you won't confuse Al Franken with Jesse Ventura ...

The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled today that Democrat Al Franken won the U.S. Senate election and said he was entitled to an election certificate that would lead to him being seated in the Senate.

"Affirmed," wrote the Supreme Court, unanimously rejecting Republican Norm Coleman's claims that inconsistent practices by local elections officials and wrong decisions by a lower court had denied him victory ...

Argentine affair runs deeper than thought

Ya just can't keep a good man down ...

COLUMBIA — South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford admitted Tuesday that he saw his Argentine mistress more times than previously disclosed, including what was to be a farewell meeting in New York chaperoned by a spiritual adviser soon after his wife found out about the affair. In a lengthy and emotional interview with The Associated Press in his Statehouse office, the governor described five meetings with Maria Belen Chapur over the past year, including two romantic, multi-night stays with her in New York before they met there again intending to break up. He said he met her two other times — their first meeting in 2001 ...


Also ...

S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster today asked the state Law Enforcement Division to review Gov. Mark Sanford's travel records after the governor acknowledged meeting his mistress more times than he had previously said.

Sanford told The Associated Press earlier today that he met with his mistress three times in New York during the past year, in addition to trips he made to South America last summer and earlier this month ...

Immunity takes a DIY slant?

Nahh, stick to Tupperware parties ...

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Health experts are warning parents against holding "swine flu parties" in the hope of infecting their children with the H1N1 virus.

Talk of swine flu parties has emerged on Internet forums. The idea is that exposing a child to the H1N1 virus while it remains relatively mild will give the child immunity if the virus returns in a more virulent form later on ...

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Toxicology findings: Michael Jackson was addicted to Oxycontin ("Hillbilly Heroin") & taking lots of Demerol.
~ E

Friday, June 26, 2009

Obit Writers Agree: He Was Peter Pan - Arts

Obit Writers Agree: He Was Peter Pan - Arts & Living News Briefs | Newser

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Playing nanny to the tribes -- again

Knowing the track record governments have with tribes in the Western Hemisphere, why don't I get that nice warm feeling right now?

OTTAWA, June 24 (UPI) -- The Canadian government delayed sending alcohol-based hand sanitizer to Indian reservations battling the H1N1 flu virus out of fears people would drink it ... the news emerged Tuesday in Ottawa when Kim Barker, public health adviser for the Assembly of First Nations, spoke to the Senate committee on aboriginal people, the Globe and Mail reported.

Jackson, before and after becoming weird

Like the Kennedy assassination, the death of Elvis, and the murder of John Lennon, a generation of people will remember exactly where they were when Michael Jackson died.

For the record, I was hanging out with a few friends, eating pizza, when one of my friends got a text message. After an incredulous "no way!" we turned on the TV to see the first reports.

Jackson wasn't exactly a performer who turned my head. Talented, sure. Knew how to deliver a song, definitely. Mixed dance steps with catchy vocals and hook-laden songs, without a doubt. But maybe it's because I'm of a slightly older generation (though Jackson was only a year younger than me), and because my tastes in music lean toward tight, edgy arrangements played on real instruments (leaving most electronic stuff for the amateurs) with occasional, no-nonsense vocals. My music collection has a lot of jazz, a healthy dose of blues, bluegrass, some country, rock, gospel, and classical. There's not a single Jackson side in there anywhere, and the 80s is a decade largely overlooked in my collection.

Years ago I did have one Michael Jackson album, "Off The Wall." It wasn't mine; it belonged to an ex-wife so you could say I married it. Or something. But I did like that album. Michael at the time was in his early 20s, his Jackson Five days were behind him, and he hadn't started getting into those freaky things folks call his persona yet. He was just a young black man with a respectable 'fro, and he was good. Even though his later accomplishments outsold "Off The Wall," I'll look you in the eye and say that album was Jackson at his best.

Somewhere along the line the wheels came off, and the public ate it up. He developed the look, which spurred a lot of comaprisons to the then-woeful Atlanta Braves -- both wore one glove and no one was sure why.

As a musician, I can appreciate the visual aspects of performing. My old mandolin player used to use two benchmarks to judge a musician -- his ability and whether he "looks like a character." I do have my own look and mannerisms when I play -- I'm usually pretty animated, running off all this nervous energy, and I dress a certain way when I'm on, so the mandolin player decided I looked like a character. Michael Jackson definitely looked like a character, that is until he started looking like a nightmare.

I don't consider Jackson a musical superstar. His music, as I mentioned, didn't exactly grab me by the ears. But you can call him a multimedia superstar and I won't dispute that. The music, the dance (good enough to get Fred Astaire's respect), later the filmmaking -- his Thriller was an OK song, but the video was what made it something special. The video also ushered in a new art form as the music went visual.

In the mid-90s and later, Jackson spent less time singing and dancing, and more time just being strange. He became a favorite of the trash tabloids. In the past decade the young black man was transformed to a white dude with witchy hair, decomposed nose, and child molestation charges hanging over his head. And his personal life became a well-documented train wreck. So well-documented that I'm not going to waste space belaboring all of it. That's what tabloids and trash blogs are for.

Michael Jackson was 50 years old, with quite a body of work behind him. Even though he was old enough for AARP membership, you can almost put him in the same camp with John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Charlie Parker, Hank Williams, or jazz trumpeter Clifford Brown. His career had an open end. There are still questions of what he might have accomplished had he been able to concentrate on his work instead of on being a weirdo. There's still a disquieting feeling that what you heard up until 1990 or so merely hinted at the gift he had in him.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Will Argentinan firecracker blow up Sanford's career?

It was probably the last thing I would have expected. On Wednesday, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford admitted that it was a strange woman at the root of his spectacular meltdown.

He'd been gone for six days, and his staff said he was out hiking the Appalachian Trail. On Wednesday, he said he'd been in Argentina with a woman he'd had an affair with for a year.

Whether it will signal the end of a political career that had lots of topspin, time will tell. You can bet, though, his credibility is shot right now, his conservative agenda is damaged, and he might as well cancel any Presidential plans for 2012.

Am I disappointed? You'd better believe it.

Sanford built his political career around being different. A maverick before it became a buzzword. A stand-up guy who followed his own convictions, no matter what the folks in his own party had to say about it.

Because of this, I became a big Sanford fan. It doesn't hurt that he's not pure Republican; the best way I can describe his politics is that he's a libertarian in elephant's clothing. If it wasn't for his almost total lack of charisma, and the fact Sarah Palin looks much better on a campaign poster, Sanford may well have been the Party's vice presidential candidate last year. And he may have made some difference, too, as the McCain camp did its level best to muzzle Palin after her nomination and she became a non-factor.

For a guy like Sanford, pulling a creep with an Argentinan hottie seems awfully, well, common. Drinking and womanizing are historically favorite hobbies of your run-of-the-mill politicians. If an implosion was in the cards for Sanford, I would have expected something more ... creative?

Running off to follow Widespread Panic would have been more of what I would have expected. Or renouncing civilization, growing a beard, and living among the grizzly bears. Being snatched by aliens. A trip to rehab to break a raging Mountain Dew habit. Or forming an ashram with Jerry Brown.

Even without the Argtentinan firecracker, Sanford would have been hard pressed to excuse his actions. There's no way around that. But I think the public is much quicker to forgive if he'd merely taken off without notice to go on what Australians call a "walkabout."

Before Sanford's Wednesday afternoon news conference, I began to think his adventure had something much deeper at bottom. Although I would be reaching to suggest something like a meltdown from depression, that did cross my mind.

As a depressive in good standing, I can tell you a little about this. We depressives are capable of doing some pretty bizarre things while on an extended low. Disappearing acts can be part of it. Impulsive behavior can be a part of it.

Of course I'm reaching here, but events of the past few months could trigger a meltdown if Sanford was prone to such things. He'd been in a fight with the state legislature over his stance on accepting federal bailout money. He watched as the legislature overrode all 10 of his gubernatorial vetoes, and the unspoken signal the House and Senate sent him was, "what do we need you for?" Even a well-balanced person can approach the razor's edge of sanity after all that.

Again, I'm not suggesting depression for Sanford, and it's extremely dangerous for a layman -- even a well-meaning layman -- to play curbstone psychiatrist. In fact, the world be a much brighter place if a whole bunch of these self-appointed "psych experts" were eaten by piranhas.

I'd hate to think Sanford pooched his political career over some South American woman. He said he does plan to stay in office to try to "rebuild the people's trust." Unlike the Eliot Spitzers, John Edwardses, and John Ensigns of this world, Sanford is one officeholder who is worth it.
WTMA ALERT: Sanford admits affair!!!!!

Battery Life: The ABCs of YMMV

Wonder why your laptop batteries don't seem to last as advertised? Is it really false advertising (as if there's any other kind)?

Just click over to The Workbench, Reloaded to read it, huh?

MIA Gov. plot thickens: South America?

This is from the Post & Courier. An excerpt:

Gov. Mark Sanford’s staff continued to tell the public Tuesday night that the governor was hiking along the Appalachian Trail even after a reporter greeted him at the Atlanta airport on his way home from a vacation in Buenos Aires, Argentina ... Sanford told the State Media Company that he decided at the last minute to go to South America to recharge after a tough legislative session. He told his staff he might go hiking.

"But I said 'no' I wanted to do something exotic ... It's a great city," he said during an interview at the Hartsville-Jackson International Airport.

Sanford said he was alone on the trip and declined to give any additional details other than to say he drove along the coastline.

Confused yet?

Alarm clocks join vinyl, 8-tracks in scrap heap

(Photo by Christina Snyder, from the Lifehacker site)

I used to hate them, and now I have no real reason to have one in my house.

Except for a small battery-operated number that I never use, alarm clocks are passe in my life. And this is not because I don't need  to wake up at a certain time (which I do) or because I've trained myself to wake up without help (are you kidding?). But just about everything comes with an alarm these days.

Sometime within the next decade you might see alarm clocks in a museum exhibit with the manual typewriter, the LP record, the eight-track tape, the DOS computer. Although I miss some of these blasts from the past, I can only say good riddance to the alarm clock.

I saw an interesting survey on the Lifehacker Web site
the other day. Admittedly, Lifehacker readers tend to the geeky and are likelier to buy into technology for technology's sake. But as of Monday, 6,111 people (including myself) responded to the question of what equipment has replaced the alarm clock. Here's the breakdown:


Cell phone -- 59% (3,585 votes)
Personal note: I was one of the 3,585. Surprising; I'm usually not in the majority about anything.

The classic alarm clock -- 26% (1,577 votes)
Watch -- 1% (45 votes)
Computer -- 3% (154 votes)
Dog/cat/pet -- 1% (71 votes)
The kid(s) -- 2% (150 votes)
An iPod/MP3 player/portable device -- 4% (227 votes)
Other -- 5% (302 votes)

Total Votes -- 6111


A question here: The survey doesn't differentiate between the old-style alarm clock and the clock-radio. I've used both, but I've found the only type of radio station to be reliable in waking me up is an all-news station. That's what I used in college. The alarm would go off, the news would click on, and I could find out whether space aliens took the planet hostage while I slept. And if they didn't, it meant I had no excuse to miss my 8:00 class.

As mentioned, I use my cell phone. It's pretty automatic; I set it once for the day and time (5:15 a.m. Monday through Friday), decide on a ring tone, and I'm good to go. I also have a "warning" alarm to remind me to quit whatever I'm doing and point myself toward work. To this day I'm not sure whether I'm ADD or not; it's safer to assume I am when it's time to get to work.

I've also used a watch, back when I wore one. Too quiet, and too easy to throw against the wall when the alarm goes off. My dog has been my wake-up service a few times, but she wakes me up when she wants rather than when I want. Still, she's a handy backup.

When I last owned a landline phone, I used the voice-mail system to wake me up. I'd call, leave a message, and set it to ring at a certain time. This was actually kind of cool, like having your own wake-up service. The only drawback was that the wake-up message was in my own voice, and that's probably the last thing I want to hear so early in the morning. There are times when I scare even myself.

Wives and girlfriends also make handy wake-up devices, but to my experience they're much harder to program than a DVD player. I've never been able to get one out of the default setting, which sounds something like "GET YOUR (!!!) OUT OF BED, YOU LAZY ESSOBEE!"

In the interest of geekiness I've tried using my computer as a wake-up system. I wish I remember how I did it; it was a really cool trick. I wrote a shell script (think .bat file for you old DOS types) that would crank up the computer volume, play a handful of carefully-selected wake-up songs, and pop my day's agenda onto the screen. Songs included "Iron Man" (Eric Dolphy), "Tonight At Noon" (Charles Mingus), "Countdown" (John Coltrane), and maybe a few bluegrass tunes. Fast, rousing, high-octane stuff. But -- welcome to the world of computers -- it takes too long and requires too much thought to set it up as a wake-up system. I got a computer to simplify and enrich my life, not to make it more complicated.

But I'm good with that cell phone. I can flip it open and find the snooze button without waking up. And since I need that phone to communicate, I haven't thrown it yet. Even if I do, 5:15 is when my dog's kidneys wake up. When they don't sleep, no one sleeps.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ed McMahon dies

Cash4Gold, Ed McMahon and MC Hammer - The Best and Worst Super Bowl Commercials 2009 - TIME

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This is not the best way to remember Ed McMahon ... he basically invented the TV sidekick role, and provided one of the greatest Jack Nicholson movie lines (in The Shining.)

But Ed was able to poke fun at his much-publicized troubles. That's a class act.

Would you buy a new car from ... ?

Seems China has competition in its bid to become the newest player in the world automotive scene. By the end of the year you might be able to get a pickup truck produced in ... India?

In fact, India's first vehicles will probably be available before anything from China. Not sure whether this is good or bad news.l

Here's the CNN story on that.

Now, I'm *not* looking forward to seeing these vehicles -- Indian or Chinese -- on a NASCAR track. I mean, some things are just plain wrong.

Hiking Governor draws comparisons to who?

Gov. Sanford's "disappearance" wasn't really that much of a mystery, at least to the folks here in South Carolina, but here's the CNN story now that the whole thing is "solved."

And a comment from one of my readers in the People's Republic of California:

"Your guy is starting to make our guy look good!" (Thanks, Mom!)

Now, that's a big difference between Sanford and the Governator. At least Arnold would toss off a trademark "I'll be back" before hitting the trail.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Update: Gov. Sanford is out hiking the Appalachian Trail, according to his staff. So he didn't even tell his wife ...
~ E
SC Gov. Mark Sanford has been MIA for a few days; no one's worried. Seems he takes off to recharge after tough battles ...
~ E

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Literal translation: What's a few more Mexicans?

This just in, from Newser:

(Newser) – The World Health Organization is set to declare the first influenza pandemic in more than 40 years, health sources tell Reuters, triggering heightened measures in 193 countries. Flu experts have advised elevating the risk of swine flu to phase 6, the highest level. That designation refers to the geographical spread of the disease, not the severity—and public health officials now say that swine flu is a relatively mild disease.

"Pandemic means global, but it doesn't have any connotation of severity or mildness," said one WHO official. "This event is really a moderate event for the time being, because the numbers are high but the disease is overwhelmingly mild." To date 27,737 people have been infected with swine flu in 74 countries, but only 141 have died, mostly in Mexico.
Source: Reuters

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Economics 101: How the stimulus REALLY works

(Special thanks to my brother Rick for sending this along.) -- Eric

Y'all might find this enlightening ... or not. But it goes like this:

It is the month of August, on the shores of the Black Sea. It is raining, and the little town looks totally deserted. It is tough times, everybody is in debt, and everybody lives on credit.

Suddenly, a rich tourist comes to town. He enters the only hotel, lays a 100 Euro note on the reception counter, and goes to inspect the rooms upstairs in order to choose one.

The hotel proprietor takes the 100 Euro note and runs to pay his debt to the butcher.

The butcher takes the 100 Euro note, and runs to pay his debt to the pig grower.

The pig grower takes the 100 Euro note, and runs to pay his debt to the supplier of his feed and fuel.

The supplier of feed and fuel takes the 100 Euro note and runs to pay his debt to the town's prostitute that in these hard times, gave her "services" on credit.

The hooker runs to the hotel, and pays off her debt with the 100 Euro note to the hotel proprietor to pay for the rooms that she rented when she brought her clients there.

The hotel proprietor then lays the 100 Euro note back on the counter so that the rich tourist will not suspect anything.
At that moment, the tourist comes down after inspecting the rooms, and takes his 100 Euro note, after saying that he did not like any of the rooms, and leaves town.

No one earned anything. However, the whole town is now without debt, and looks to the future with a lot of optimism.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how the United States Government under President Obama and the State of California under Governor Arnold are doing business today.

You know you are living in 2009 when ...

(Special thanks to Jennifer from the People's Republic of California, who sent this along!)
-- Eric

1. You pull up in your own driveway and use your cell phone to see if anyone is home to help you carry in the groceries.

2. You haven't played solitaire with real cards in years.

3. You have a list of 15 phone numbers to reach your family of three.

4. You e-mail the person who works at the desk next to you.

5. Your reason for not staying in touch with friends and family is that they don't have e-mail addresses.

6. You accidentally enter your password on the microwave.

7. Every commercial on television has a web site at the bottom of the screen.

8. Leaving the house without your cell phone, which you didn't have the first 20 or 30 (or 60) years of your life, is now a cause for panic and you turn around to go and get it.

10. You get up in the morning and go on line before getting your coffee.

11. You're reading this and nodding and laughing...

12 Even worse, you know exactly to whom you are going to forward this message

13. You are too busy to notice there was no #9 on this list.

14. You actually scrolled back up to check that there wasn't a #9 on this list..

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Cell phone what?

Forget about sports injuries, and don't even think about carpal tunnel syndrome anymore. This is the new repetitive-motion injury of the ages.

I reckon cauliflower ear is something that goes with Cell Phone Elbow ...

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Are they planning a bake sale?

According to The Governator, The People's Republic of California is broke. Tapped out. Flat busted.
~ E

Testing out the perfect killing machine

Warmer stickier weather here in the South Carolina Lowcountry is bringing the usual byproduct: Bugs. Lots of 'em, and all kinds.

Yes, it's time to break out the roach traps, the mosquito repellent (DEET is the favored perfume this time of year), the bug zapper (which together with the lawn chairs and your favorite potable beverage makes for some first-rate family entertainment).

And if you're like me and prefer to keep windows open, you're sending out invitations for all this wildlife to move into your digs.

Because of this, I decided to break down and get me a fly swatter. But not just any fly swatter. This one's called Sergeant Swat.

You know the guy who invented the pet rock (I'm really dating myself here) is probably living on his own island right now, doing nothing more strenuous than playing with his investments. All because he took an ordinary item (in this case a random hunk of mineral), and sold zillions of them. You didn't buy it for the rock. You bought it for the instructions; they were pure genius. Same with the guy who designed the Weather String -- a piece of string you'd hang outside. The instructions told you that if it was wet it probably meant rain.

I picked up Sergeant Swat merely because it was there, it was cheap, it looked like it was pretty well designed, and it had some heft. If you're going to swat a fly, you don't want to just stun it. You want severe collateral damage, some serious splatter. You want shock and awe; hopefully it will serve as a deterrent to the rest of the fly community.

Other than that, it's pretty standard fly swatter design: The handle is metal wire like a coat hanger, and the business end is plastic, shaped like your standard killing instrument. All around, though, it is thicker. The head is about twice as thick as I usually see on this device, and the tip is beveled -- making it easier to scrape up all the fly parts.

Unpacking the fly swatter, I checked out the instructions on the attached card: "A military spec swatter for the toughest pests!"

The features of Sergeant Swat, according to the instructions:

- "Recoilless design allows for swat-attacks on even the largest of flying prey." I wonder how it is on bats? They kind of freak me out, especially when they're flying too close to my neck.

- "Precision manufactured flapper and super strong steel handle creates the most lethal flying pest killing apparatus the world has ever seen."

I soon got to test this apparatus out. Fluttering around on my living room wall was either a mosquito or pterodactyl (in South Carolina they're identical); a quick lefthanded backhanded flick sent him off to the Promised Land. There was little left but a grease spot on my wall and a few legs sticking out of it; I'm not sure what happened to the actual critter itself.

This was so cool. In my hands I had the perfect killing machine. My mindset is a lot more hawk than dove anyway, but I actually spent a few minutes on patrol in my house, looking for more bugs to squish.

OK, should I run out of flies, the instructions -- I'm not kidding -- list some "civilian uses" for the swatter:

- "For those that don't mind spreading a little bug shrapnel, try it as a backscratcher." No need. I can always find a fencepost or stucco wall someplace.

- "Canoe paddle, never know when you'll be up that creek without a real one." I'm going to have to keep that in mind; that's where I spend much of my life.

- "Redneck badminton." Being a redneck in good standing, I must take offense to this. Badminton is a sport for interior decorators.

- "Manual mouse-trap." Maybe this answers my question about the bats, which I consider to be nothing but rats with wings.

With a nod to the People's Republic of California and their ridiculous product-labeling laws, a few cautions are listed. Here's one:

- "While Sergeant Swat is effective on most campsite pests, it has been shown to only aggravate bears." I wonder who found this out, and whatever happened to him?

But then, I hear different things on what to do should you encounter a bear in the wild. Some species are scared off if you make a bunch of noise. Others will get real cranky and use you as a chew toy. Unfortunately, I never could remember which species is which.

One misgiving: While Sergeant Swat is marketed by Willert Home Products in St. Louis, the instruction card announces the swatter itself is made in China.

I'm wondering how much of our nation's big-time weaponry is also made in China. Should I be very very afraid now?